So, this was suggested to me by The Captain (but I was already planning on watching it, promise!) for a review, and so I thought I would oblige.

What is this film about? 

The logline reads: I’ll Take Your Dead follows William who has a simple job: he makes dead bodies disappear. But after a woman’s body is dumped at the house, William begins his meticulous process until he realizes — she’s not actually dead!

(*Note – I had to edit this down from the massive logline/synopsis on IMDB, but this gets at the heart of what this film is and is about and keeps it to two sentences. It also may be worth trying your hand at shortening some lengthy descriptions for your favorite films – it’s great logline practice and can be a fun little activity)

The setup and trailer reminds me of A History of Violence (a fantastic film, by the way) which I was totally into: a brutal, small-town neo-noir with horror elements – sign me the heck up!

From just watching the trailer and reading the logline, I would say that the horror in this piece is more psychological and existential rather than jumpscare-y (which I hate) or gory (sigh… I am a huge Saw fan, so I can’t say anything here other than if it is too gratuitous, it will detract from your story and characters… but, again, big Saw fan here… especially Saw III – the goriest of the bunch, so I can’t really criticize gore-fests)

Anyway… psychological horror is a great sub-genre and can really lead you, as a writer, to a lot of moments that will stick with your reader and draw them into the story and situations that the characters are experiencing.

Now, I do want to talk a little bit about the thriller/horror genre difference when you are pitching your project:

Recently, I have had a “horror” feature script that I was having some difficulty pitching – I would start by saying it was a horror and then get into the plot and characters only to be frequently stopped by the question: And this is supposed to be a horror?

The issue here is that my concept has lots of psychological horror and is (douche alert!) more of a cerebral horror concept than a slasher or haunted house idea. So, when I started with “It’s a horror project about…” the person I was pitching to automatically expected to hear typical horror beats and tropes in the pitch — the opening kill, the “final girl”, the monster/demon/killer, etc. and were a bit thrown off when my pitch went in a slightly different direction (trying to purposely avoid some/many of these tropes)

When we brought on a director for the project and were trying to get final funding (which we are still looking if anyone happens to be loaded and interested in investing in a psychological horror film – shameless self-promotion is now over) she suggested that we alter our approach a bit and pitch the project as a psychological-thriller. 

When we began to pitch it that way, people perked up and started to take notice and my team and I started to really make some serious progress and have really begun to get interest in the project and start to move forward in the way that we want.

I bring this up because I would classify I’ll Take Your Dead (in concept alone) as less of a horror and more of a thriller with some horror elements which is/can be hard to pitch. However, it is something to consider while you are practicing your pitch: how can I best represent this project and its tone and themes? 

And also (perhaps even more importantly) What is actually going to sell this project? How can I frame this pitch so that it has the best chance of success?

This may sound confusing, but I am not saying to lie, I am just saying that it is hard to sell a script/pitch for any genre, so you need to do everything that you can to elevate your story and make your pitch as concise, focused and interesting as you can.

Now, onward to the film!

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What Worked

I like the winter setting – it kind of reminded me of a Shane Black film – but it also added to the bleak atmosphere of the story and the sense of isolation.

I actually liked the interaction between Gloria (the little girl) and the mob hitman at the beginning – it is creepy and, even though it is a short scene, it is uncomfortable enough to be effective.

It was interesting that the little girl (Gloria) helps her dad dispose of the bodies that the mob brings in – most of the time in a story like this the father/parent will want their child to stay as far away as possible, but this is just another day for Gloria and William, which is pretty disturbing if you think about it.

Gloria is also pretty creepy – although, being raised on a murder farm in the middle of nowhere, I guess it’s kind of to be expected.

I wish we had more of the voiceover teaching us the rules of their existence, like when Gloria says: Blood leaves a trail, so we have to burn/clean everything with blood on it. It was interesting and I could have used more of it.

The interaction between William and Gloria (father and daughter) felt natural and was well-acted.

I do like the midpoint twist —

— That Jackie’s boyfriend was in on it and had ordered the hit on her and the other guys in order to make off with some money. That way, when he finds out she is alive, he and the other gangsters have to try to kill her – and, by extension, William and Gloria who are caring for Jackie.

I also really love the mix of genres – horror, thriller, action – it starts off as A History of Violence, morphs into The Orphanage, then becomes Gerald’s Gameand ends with a bang and by turning into Assault on Precinct 13 with a little touch of Drag Me to Hell.

It does suck for William – he wants to be a good guy, but Jackie called the gangsters and so when they want to kill her, William doesn’t have a lot of choice.

I also like the makeshift family that Jackie, Gloria and William form in the film – it’s sweet and feels natural.

What Needed Work

The cliche – “This story doesn’t have a picture-perfect ending” voiceover narration at the intro – we didn’t need it. Also, the voiceover narration just kind of disappears entirely after the introduction and so it felt strange and tacked-on.

I wish that we had a little more setup with William and Gloria – just show what a normal day looked like for them before we get into the main plot.

I mean, I would have watched an origin story about this guy and his daughter – disposing of bodies for the mob. How did they get into that? How did they get connected to the mob? Why is the “go-to” guy? Why does everyone know him? Why are there rumors about him eating the corpses?

Gloria looks kind of like an older teenager, but she acts like she is a young child. She states at one point that she is 12. The actress playing her (Ava Preston) is apparently 14 years old, but does look (at least in this film) like she is at least 16.

I think it might have been a bit more effective to have a much younger actress take the role as that would have added to the horror and been even more frightening and disturbing.

I could have done without the flashback showing how the dead bodies ended up at William’s house. It added nothing to the plot (though, I guess, it let us predict the “twist” pretty early on) and was probably kind of expensive to shoot just from a budgetary perspective.

To me, this piece had plenty going for it without having to add the supernatural element of Gloria seeing ghosts.

This is similar to a horror film I recently saw called The Super (2017) which very much wanted to be The Shining, but in doing so felt it needed to add a supernatural element which I thought really muddled the plot and felt forced.

So, there was never any mention of feeding Jackie (the girl who was shot by the mobsters, but survived so William and Gloria tie her up to a bed while they consider what to do with her) or letting her use the restroom. It is probably a small thing, but even just a quick line or moment in the background would have made this seem more realistic, whereas currently, it seems like they haven’t fed her or anything in days.

Unfortunately, there are many jumpscare moments in the film. My prediction above that this would be more psychological horror was apparently misplaced.

And Gloria dumping out the purse and then leaving a gun and a phone on the bed where Jackie could easily reach it is just stupid and only happened to move the plot forward.

This could have been easily fixed if Jackie just hid the phone from Gloria or had somehow tricked her into thinking that it was already in the purse.

It was strange how the gangsters see the ghosts when they raid William’s house – it just kind of muddles the story because now we are not sure if the film is saying that ghosts are real in this universe or that this house is haunted or if it wants us to know/think that Gloria can somehow conjure ghosts to protect herself and William.

Also, a little weird how the main gangster for some reason acts like he is in a blood-feud with the 12 year old Gloria – literally saying “The little girl is mine.” — Why? What did she do to you, gangster guy? Who hurt you?

The entire plot of the gangsters is never fully explained: who did they steal all of that money from? Why is this person so bad? Why would it matter if Jackie was still alive – couldn’t they just take her and run away with the money? Or, alternatively, couldn’t they just run away with the money and leave Jackie alone? It’s been days since the shootout, shouldn’t you already be long-gone with the cash?

I do feel like we could have done a little more with the premise – it had lots of potential and I understand the way that they went with it, but I feel as if there was a lot left unexplored here.

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Final Thoughts

RENT IT (especially if you are The Captain)This was an interesting mix of genres – horror, thriller, action – I liked that it used all of these elements and mixed tropes to make something really unique. It didn’t always work and sometimes the tone felt a little scattered, but overall I enjoyed the film and respected what it was trying to accomplish on an indie budget with a single-location and just a few actors.

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